How to discuss aging and moving to a retirement home, Long Term Care or assisted living with your parents, partner or friends.
The elephant sitting in many rooms across the country is the ‘you can’t live at home alone anymore’ talk. It’s uncomfortable, it’s difficult and it brings up a lot of emotions. Whether you’re a family that is open with their emotions or one that tends to be more reserved, having this talk seems to be one of the most difficult ones to start.
Let’s begin with why it is so uncomfortable? If you’re having to have this discussion with your parents, it will come with a major shift in the family dynamic. Mom and Dad, or whatever variation your family is, have been the authority figures, the ones that know best, the ones you go to for comfort and guidance. Now you have to be that for them. From both perspectives this can be uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and downright awkward.
The other major factor making this a difficult talk is that it’s a moment where the senior is needing help and must accept that they need the help. We are often very proud by nature and are told all our lives to be independent, self-sufficient and that no one is going to hold our hand through it. But although we are now vulnerable and need support, it’s so ingrained in us not to ask. Fear of the unknown, or fear of accepting change is also huge and can play a large part in trying to convince you or themselves that everything is fine and they’re doing okay.
The last major factor is that a move is a big change and a big step in life. A move to a retirement home or seniors accommodation is often viewed negatively and seen as the last stage. Facing the end of life and accepting death is extremely challenging. So to have a family member, friend or loved one being told ‘you should move to a retirement home’ can sound very similar to ‘this is the end’. It most certainly is not, but the thought can be a major blow to confidence and morale and can feed into the elements of fear that they may have.
Knowing this, how can we approach the conversation and have it end positively? Essentially, this talk is asking someone to change; to change their lifestyle and living situation. Most likely if you’re having this conversation it’s because this person does not want to change or is ambivalent about it, therefore not likely to change. So let’s take a step back and look at what motivates people to change and apply this principle to ‘the talk’.
In order for any change to happen the person making the change must see that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. “Okay”, you say. “I’ll tell them what the benefits of a move are”. Not quite! These are the benefits YOU see, but may not be the benefits that THEY see.
It’s essential to figure out what really matters to them and align how a move would fit into this. That means you must LISTEN! If you want to have the most impact with your talk, the key is to not actually talk but to simply listen. Not only listen to what they’re saying but understand, and align this. Also try to ‘listen’ to what they’re not saying.
Address their fears and barriers. Think back to any major change you’ve made in your life. Once you start it’s easy to continue, but taking those first steps is so difficult. There is lots of fear and often several barriers to taking these first steps. Again listen to your loved one when they are telling you their fears or any barriers and gently offer the solutions to overcome them.
At the end of the day, to set yourself up for success with the talk, it’s best to go into the conversation prepared to listen and empathize rather than convince and judge.